Chapter 25

Opening the sliding glass door, a cool blast of air greeted Gavin and me, along with the tantalizing aroma of apple pie. “Ahh. Air-conditioning and a tasty treat—sweet! I can totally go for this,” Gavin applauded our change of venue.

“Me, too,” I chimed in. “An oasis from the heat.”

Securing the door behind us, I crossed the kitchen and draped the blanket on the back of the closest barstool while Gavin deposited the picnic basket on top of the countertop near the kitchen sink. He then leaned against the doorjamb leading into the dining room and watched as I returned to the oven. Lowering the oven door, I peered inside. “Let’s see how this is coming along.” Poking the pie with a fork, I sighed. “It’s still not done. I have no idea what the magic trick is to get this thing to finish baking. This has never happened before.” I glanced over at Gavin, hoping he’d contribute some brilliant idea.

He shrugged and smiled. “I can wait.”

I punched in a few numbers on the oven timer and pressed start again. “In the meantime?” I looked at Gavin, fishing for a Plan B.

“In the meantime, you can share that song with me you’ve been working on at the piano. I keep hearing how good it is. Maybe we can turn it into a duet.” His eyes sparkled as he spoke.

“The song is barely finished,” I began to object. “Not to mention, you don’t know the words.”

“So? I’m a quick learner. You can teach me. Come on! I want to hear it.” He reached for my hand and led me through the dining room into the living room.

“I guess we can give it a try,” I conceded, pulling out the piano bench. Locating the sheet music inside, I spread the pages out across the piano’s wooden stand and took a seat. “You want to do the harmony, right?”

“I’ll do whatever you want, Babe.” Gavin’s dimples surfaced with his smile.

Babe? That’s at least the second time he’s referred to me in an intimate way, I noted, but I’m sure it’s nothing. It’s just his way of flirting. I need to stop reading so much into this. I made room for Gavin next to me, and he sidled up close on my right side, making sure our legs touched. So, this isn’t about the music. It’s about being close to me. I see what’s going on here, I smirked.

“Oh, look, words!” Gavin winked, pointing to the lyrics on the papers in front of us.

I rolled my eyes. “Yes, the song has words,” I confirmed, jabbing him in the ribs. “I never said it didn’t.” He laughed.

Nudging my arm by bumping against me with his, Gavin continued to play. “Feisty! Feisty!”

I elbowed him back, making him scoot to the edge of the bench. “You know it. Now, do you wanna hear this song or don’tcha?” I paused, anticipating his next quip.

Gavin grinned and motioned to the piano keys. “Absolutely. Show me whatcha got.”

I took in a deep breath, stretching my fingers and cracking my knuckles. “Just remember, I only finished putting this together about a week ago, so I’m not promising how great it’ll sound.”

“You’ll do fine,” he rallied, “besides, I’m pretty forgiving. Give it a go.”

Trying to push past the sudden onset of nerves, I fiddled with the keys and fumbled over two renditions of “Jesus Loves Me” to warm up before anxiety won. “Sorry. I’m just not up to playing today. Maybe I can share it with you some other time,” I apologized. I exhaled slowly and slid the piano’s hard wooden cover over the keys. Truth is, I can’t think straight with you sitting right beside me, but maybe that’s been your plan all along. You like throwing me off my game.

Gavin stirred, murmuring near my ear. “Well, I thought it was beautiful.”

“It was?” The words mindlessly left my mouth as I turned my head, only to find myself staring at Gavin’s lips.

“Mmhmm.” His right hand slowly found my face, his gentle touch causing me to hold my breath. He traced the left side of my cheek with his fingers and tucked a few loose hairs behind my ear. “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered, “and real.”

“You’ve said that before,” I smiled, referencing our first kiss.

“Well, it’s true,” he answered, his words mimicking a type of reverence. “You are a genuinely beautiful person, Hope Blythe—inside and out. I’ve never met anyone like you before.” He paused a long moment, studying my face. “I can’t put my finger on it, but you do things to me I just can’t explain.” It took him a minute to formulate his thoughts. “For the past several years, I’ve tried to convince myself that I don’t want this—that you and I can only be friends.” He became introspective, letting out a long, controlled sigh. “But after being around you all summer, and watching you with the kids, it’s clear to me that I want so much more. I want you. I want this—whatever this is.”

Disbelief produced a moment of doubt. “You do?” Nerves cracked my voice as I met his gaze. Are my ears deceiving me?

Gavin cupped the side of my face, allowing his fingers to intertwine with the hair at the nape of my neck. His free hand held onto the side of the bench by my right thigh, and his nose touched mine. “Mmhmm. I do.”

I exhaled slowly.

His eyes wandered across my face, visually fascinated with each freckle and flaw that peppered my nose and ran along my cheek line. When he spoke, the desire in his tone made a shiver run up my spine. “May I kiss you?” He touched his finger to my lips, waiting for my reply.

“What if I say ‘No’?” I whispered just loud enough for him to hear me.

“I don’t think you will,” he challenged. Confidence compelled him to stay within my personal space—his breaths steady. Slow. Intentional.

Stubbornness caused a cocky response to well up inside me, blood pulsing through my veins and swooshing past my ears. A slow in-and-out rhythm controlled my air. “Are you sure about that?” I tempted, teased, and tested his boundaries and conviction.

He slowly licked his lips. “Are you asking me to stop?” The consequential question heightened my reality and playing ceased. I slowly shook my head, my forehead grazing his. As his lips touched mine, years of flirting and daydreaming and wondering how it would be melded into a second magical moment between the two of us.

Gavin slowly removed his hand from the bench and purposefully encircled my waist, drawing me to him. As we melted into each other, I reached for his neck, pulling him closer. The deeper our kiss became the more passionate our bodies moved—and the more I wanted him.

Strategically standing, Gavin slid one of his arms under my legs and wrapped his other arm around my waist, supporting my back as he lifted me off the bench and into his arms. Carrying me a few feet from the piano, he gently laid me on the carpet in the middle of the living room. Landing with a mild “umph,” I let out a weak yet nervous giggle. Gavin remained intense, his body hovering over mine as he proceeded to nibble down the side of my neck, pawing at the collar of my shirt so he could suck freely on my collarbone. Scooping his face into my hands, I redirected his mouth to mine. His kiss instantly became more earnest. Sultry. Passionate. The allure of continued intimacy made my mind begin to reel, and I knew we needed to stop. How do I bring this runaway train to a halt? I wondered.

Pressing my hands against Gavin’s chest, I turned my face, trying to pry him from my lips. “No,” I whispered, trying to catch my breath. “Slow down. You know I’m waiting for marriage.”

Gavin captured both of my hands with his, lacing his fingers through mine and pressing them to the floor. I suddenly found myself pinned between the carpet and his heavy, masculine physique. “We’ve waited a long time for this,” he reminded me. “You know you want this as much as I do. Enjoy the moment. Live a little.” Kissing up the other side of my neck, he paused to suck on my lower lip; and our kiss deepened again.

Gasping for air, I pressed my back against the ground in an attempt to leverage my way free. “I need you to stop,” I insisted. “I should have never encouraged this.” His testosterone-induced strength confined my movement, and I quickly learned his dominance outweighed my desire for him to stop. “Gavin, listen to me,” I panted. “This is going too fast. Let’s take a breather.”

“I thought you wanted me.” He seduced and enticed, his heavy breathing matching mine. Freeing his right hand from mine, he ran it up the side of my bare leg until he snagged it on the edge of my short shorts. Feelings I’d never experienced before sent sensations shooting through my extremities, raising my back off the floor. Gavin smiled as my body responded to his touch, excited to be getting an immediate reaction. He captured my lips in another kiss, forcing me back against the floor, pressing into me with his groin.

“I do. Lord knows how much!” I confessed. “But, not like this. We’re not even dating.” I began to panic as Gavin began pushing past my boundaries. Those classes in school about deciding to abstain from sex before marriage are making so much more sense now, I confessed to God. There’s absolutely NOTHING normal about saying “no” in this moment, but I need him to hear me. I need him to stop.

“You need to get off of me,” I huffed. “I mean it, Gavin. Stop. Now.”

“Feisty, are we?” Gavin chuckled. “I can play, too.” He reached for my other leg, grabbing my outer thigh.

“I’m not playing, Gavin. Get off me!” I shoved the heel of my free hand against his collar bone.

Ring! Ring! Pause. Ring! Ring! I froze at the sound. The telephone resounded from the kitchen wall, begging for our attention.

Oh, thank you! I praised God. Panting, I reached an arm over my head, as if doing so would bring the phone closer. “I need to get that,” I stressed. “Let me get up.”

“Ignore it,” he objected. Restraining my free hand with his, he placed his face in close proximity to mine. “This afternoon is about you and me. The rest of the world can wait. You’re all mine.” I let out a deep sigh and closed my eyes as he nibbled on my right ear.

“But, it might be important,” I argued, struggling against his weight. “I really should get it.” I don’t care how flimsy that excuse is. You need to listen to me.

“It can’t be that important,” he countered. “Nobody even knows you’re here. Remember? You’re supposed to be out on a picnic. They’re not expecting you to be home. You can call back later.” He tried distracting me with another kiss, catching my words with his mouth before they could leave me.

My concern deepened. He’s right. Nobody knows I’m here. I have no way out.

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